The Houston Chronicle reports that David Feldman, the City Attorney of Houston (the municipal equivalent of the Attorney General), has received a hefty pay raise per an order from Mayor Annise Parker. Specifically, his pay was increased by 43%, from $244,000 to $350,000.
The raise drew the ire of many at City Hall, most notably City Controller Ronald Green. The Controller’s office ostensibly acts as some sort of financial watchdog over the City, which is typically most apparent when a Democratic Mayor faces off against a nominally conservative Controller. However, given that both Mayor Parker and Controller Green have similar political persuasions, I cannot recall a single other instance that they had such a high-profile disagreement that has bled over into the paper. Specifically, Green circulated a memo that criticized Parker for making this move unilaterally rather than consulting with Councilmembers first, as he alleged has been the precedent in previous circumstances.
“While there is no precedent for an increase of this magnitude, it has been your policy to require salary surveys to justify such an increase. For the sake of transparency and consistency, a salary survey should be readily available for the public and council members,” Green said.
Councilmember Larry Green (no relation to the aforementioned Controller) similar was taken aback by the increases, specifically what he felt was the lack of an opportunity for feedback. “Obviously, we didn’t have an opportunity to weigh in on that particular decision. I’m definitely going to have a conversation with the mayor about it to find out her rationale. On its face, you obviously want to question it, but sometimes there may be justifications,” Councilmember Green said.
Not all Councilmembers were upset or in opposition. Councilmember C.O. Bradford, a former Vice-Mayor Pro Tem and often a critic of the Mayor himself, felt the pay hike was justified. “Quite frankly, I think that the job warrants that type of pay. Public work should not pay what the private sector pays, but $350,000, that’s still a portion of what someone doing Feldman’s work would be making in the private sector, and you have to bring in talent,” Bradford said.
The Parker administration, meanwhile, defended the increase as the only way the City Attorney’s office could remain competitive with private sector pay for such a talented litigator as Feldman. The argument is a familiar one, that without at least modestly realistic salaries, the public sector will suffer, and one I fully sympathize with.
Last, but not least, Mike Morris noted that this came on the heels of Parker, Green and the City Council receiving pay hikes of their own. However, this had far more to do with the Legislature than Parker. Houston officeholders’ salaries are tied to that of a District Judge, meaning their salaries increase whenever the powers-to-be hike the pay of the Judges. Parker now makes $235k, Green $156k and the City Council $63k. Not too bad considering the latter one is not really a full time job.
Do you think Parker should have requested feedback from the City Council? We look forward to your comments.